Baptism: Visible Sign of Invisible Grace

On a cold day in November of 1953, my parents, Bill and Fern presented their infant son, Roger, for baptism.  Bill, a minister himself, asked the conference minister to officiate at the baptism.  For the baptism, I am sure the Ebertz family were surrounded by a host of friends, faithful brothers and sisters in Christ who had served together with them in that congregation. Baptism, a visible sign of an invisible grace.

Of course, I don’t remember that day at all.  But looking back at an old minister’s manual from the time I can make a good guess what was said.  They promised to teach me “the principles of our Christian religion,” and to pray with me and for me.  The minister prayed, “Grant, O Lord, unto these thy servants, the grace to perform that which they have promised before thee.  And sanctify with thy spirit this child now baptized and committed in Christian faith to thee.”

And so, with water sprinkled on my head, I was baptized, “in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” and received “into the love and care of the church.”  A visible sign of an invisible grace.

Over the last 7 or 8 years, I’ve thought a lot about grace.  The more I think about it, the more amazed I am at the gracefulness of God.   There are so many times when I have done stupid things and God has saved me by his grace.  I remember once, for example, when I was probably 8 or 9 years old.   I was with my friends.  One of us had found some ammunition for a 22 rifle and we were kneeling down on the sidewalk, hitting one of the bullets with a hammer.  The bullet fired.  By God’s grace, none of us was hurt.

Most people who know me think I am a “together” person.  But from the inside, my life often looks and feels like a mess.  There are times when the mess comes out.   Only through gracious forgiveness from others do I manage to go on.

Several years ago, some things happened that helped me see I needed some counseling.  I began going to a psychological counselor for help.  Those conversations helped me recognize struggles with depression in my life and helped me get medication that continues to help me deal with depression.  This, too, is a gift of God.  Grace.

What strikes me as I think about all these things is this.  All my life, whether I knew it or not, God’s grace has sustained me.  When I did stupid things, God was there, with his gracious love, whether I realized it or not.  In times when I thought I had messed up my life beyond repair, God’s grace came in the form of others who were willing to give me another chance.

God’s invisible grace.  Sometimes we feel it, sometimes we don’t.  That’s why we need sacraments.   Visible signs of God’s invisible grace.  Signs that remind us that God works even when we don’t see it, don’t feel it.  Even when we cannot believe God is real.   We are held in God’s loving arms, not because we do the right things, not because we believe the right doctrines, not because we have gotten our lives together, but because of God’s incredible grace!!

And so I’ve been thinking about baptism.  A visible sign of an invisible grace.  Whether its sprinkling of water on a baby, sprinkling an adult who has come to commit his or her life to Christ, or submerging an adult in the river, baptism is not about what we do; It’s about what God does.  Sometimes we see God at work.  But sometimes, life is dark.  As I mentioned before, I struggle with depression.  I also struggle with my own rebelliousness and sin.  But God’s grace is there because “nothing in life or in death can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.”

On that cold day in November way back in 1953, my parents brought me before the congregation to be sprinkled with water.  I certainly didn’t know what was going on.  But what is important is that God did.  I don’t remember the day.  But what is important is that God has remembered me.  It was a visible sign of the grace of God that has followed me all these years.  The street signs on Grace Street are also a reminder to me of God’s grace.  But in a much deeper way, my baptism – and every baptism, is a visible reminder of God’s wonderful grace.   Even when we don’t have a clue what is going on, the loving God is with us.  Even when we do stupid things, God is watching over us.  Even when we don’t feel any divine presence and don’t really feel like we love God, God is present and loves us.  Even when God is invisible to us, we are visible to him.

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Walking on Grace Street

A parable of grace.

Over the last eight or nine weeks, I’ve been walking to work.  It’s starting to get warm now, but one day in the heart of the winter, with the wind blowing in my face, God gave me a parable about grace.  The mile and a half to my office every morning and evening gives me some good exercise.  But some days it’s hard to get myself out of the door and on the way.  It’s not just the cold.  My brain has a tendency to pull my spirit down into depression.  For some reason it pulls the hardest in the morning.  It takes me a while to get motivated for the day.  My heart is cold.  But most of the time I manage to get out the door and start walking.

Once I’m walking, its almost always a bit better.  My spirit starts to rise.  My mind thinks of this or that.  I trudge down the sidewalk, adjusting my pace to fit in with the kids on their way to the middle school. About half way, I pass the school.  That’s when I see the crossing guard.  The same one almost every day.  We always wave to each other and say ‘hi.’  That’s just about all we know about each other, that we both happen to be at this particular place at this particular time just about every weekday.  Once we ran into each other somewhere else and she recognized me.  “Hey, you’re the guy who walks by the middle school every morning, aren’t you?”  A brief exchange of minor information about ourselves.  Beyond that, it simply a daily smile and ‘Morning.’  By this time my spirit’s feeling better.  Half way to my office, interacting with others, putting a smile on my face.

A few more blocks and I turn up toward the small university where I teach.  By this time, I’m feeling better.  I’m almost there.  Almost to my office where I can turn on my computer, make myself another cup of hot tea, and think about what’s coming my way that day.  Sometimes, as I walk, I even manage to mumble a prayer in anticipation of the day or in thanksgiving for the fresh wind on my face.  Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t every day, or very long, that I find myself praying.  But sometimes I do.

Interestingly, the last street, the one that takes me to my office is “Grace Street.”  Not long ago, toward the end of the cold days of winter, I looked up at the street sign and it struck me, “Grace Street.”  I thought about that. By the time I get to Grace Street I’m feeling fairly good.  But then I thought some more.  I thought about how I walked out of my house, even though I didn’t really feel like it.  I thought of the crossing guard’s friendly smile that helps to take the chill off.  I thought of the transformation that takes place in my heart every morning.  I thought about how God’s grace was at work, and continues to be at work, even when my heart is cold and my brain tries to pull me toward depression.  I thought about the fresh air, the blood moving in my body, the smile along the way.  God’s grace.  And I realized that all along, not just for the last few blocks, but all along, all my life, in fact, I’ve been walking on Grace Street.  My walk is only possible because of grace.  It is the fresh air of God’s grace that keeps me going.  I hope in this blog to share the journey on Grace Street with you, and that you will share your journey with me.